Alicia Keys

The future is now: Adventures in advertising

August 4, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

Can technology democratize the celebrity endorsement market?

By Paul Keegan, contributor

Your ad here: Jorge Posada mugs in a stock pose for BAT's camera.

When my wife, Tatiana Keegan, recently decided to go back to professional competitive ballroom dancing after a six-year absence, I wasn't so much worried about her new partner, a dashing Austrian fellow named Werner Figar with zero body fat and dazzling Latin moves. No, I am a modern man: I was worried about money. As with most minor sports, the economics of ballroom dancing are weighted heavily against athletes (and their long-suffering spouses). There are travel costs, entry fees, equipment, and outfits (in our case, rhinestone-studded dresses) that can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars a year -- all in pursuit of meager prize money.

So I began researching the world of sports endorsements, hoping to land a deal that would keep us out of the poorhouse. The landscape isn't pretty there either. Of the $1.1 billion advertisers pay athletes to hawk cars, burgers, and erectile-dysfunction pills every year, two-thirds of that money goes to just 75 A-list megastars, such as LeBron James, Derek Jeter, and Peyton Manning, according to SportsBusiness Journal. That leaves thousands of major league players worshipped by their fans -- even relatively big names like Jorge Posada of the New York Yankees or Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics -- scrambling for that last third of the pie. And if you play a minor sport (the average Women's Professional Soccer player, for example, earns just $32,000 a year), well, don't even think about quitting your day job.

Then I started hearing about technology that may finally level the playing field. A startup in Irvine, Calif., called Brand Affinity Technologies (BAT) has signed 3,600 pro athletes to its roster -- mostly from football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, and including Posada, Rondo, and even Drew Brees, before he was a Super Bowl hero -- and is now expanding into pop music. BAT just signed a deal with RCA/Jive to put artists such as Alicia Keys and Kings of Leon on its platform, and plans to go after television and movie stars next.


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